Should Vancouver-based rhymer SonReal’s career come to an abrupt end, he can always fall back on motivational speaking.

When asked at what age he discovered a talent for writing rhymes, SonReal (born Aaron Hoffman) flashes a humble side that few rappers ever reveal.

“I was about 15,” he says. “I had a crappy mic and a computer, and I just started downloading beats and rapping to them. My friends said I was good so I just kept going. But I was absolutely horrible. Like, the worst! But the passion was there.”

The rapper cut his teeth at little clubs in Vancouver, and considers himself fortunate to even get a few people come and say he was dope.

“My friends said I was good so I just kept going. But I was absolutely horrible.”

“It took me time to find out what I wanted to say, how I wanted to write songs,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time doing this, so when situations get crazy, I’m prepared. If I didn’t go through the open mics, horrible recordings, and low-budget music videos, I wouldn’t be here today.”

“Here” is a place at which many Canadian rappers would be happy to reside. SonReal was nominated for a JUNO Award in the Rap Recording category for the last two consecutive years. The album nominated in 2013, The Closer – a collaboration with Rich Kidddebuted at No. 3 on iTunes Canada’s hip-hop charts. MTV called him “Canada’s latest hip-hop phenomenon,” and the video for “Everywhere We Go” has reached a million YouTube views since being posted last August. SonReal also boasts a prolific work rate: he released three albums in 2012, and has toured incessantly.

So what’s the source of his appeal? He attributes it to his “realness” – being genuine. “I spend time every day replying to fans,” he says. “I work hard at making sure they know they’re the biggest part of my story. I’m just being myself.”

Listen to his lyrics and it becomes evident why so many enjoy him. He can come off as alternately cocky, introspective or vulnerable – or, in his words, “relatable.”

“I think one thing that separates me from other artists is that I’m not afraid to be vulnerable,” he says. “[The song] ‘L.A.’ was inspired by falling in love. I wanted to write about that, but in an indirect way. That’s why the whole song takes place in a kind of ‘horrible day-in-the-life’ format, but at the end of each verse, it ties back to a woman who makes everything feel okay.

“I love writing songs that are open to interpretation.”

Discography: Good Morning (2008), The Stroll (2009), The Lightyear Mixtape (2010), Where’s Waldo? (2011), Words I Said (2012), Good News (2012), The Closers (2012), One Long Day (2014)
SOCAN member since 2009


  • “SonReal is hard-working and innovative, has a supreme ear as an engineer, and has a heart of gold,” says singer-songwriter/bassist/producer Chin Injeti, who’s worked with Dr. Dre and Eminem.
  • “My love for wordplay goes back to when I first heard hip-hop,” says SonReal. “I was a huge fan of artists like Nas and Outkast.”
  • SonReal says the video for “Everywhere We Go” was inspired by the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

At the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Canadian figure skaters Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel gave solid performances that helped them finish seventh in pair skating and get the silver medal for Canada in the first figure skating team event. Much was made of the fact that Duhamel and Radford had skated their short program to music composed by Radford himself, the first time in the sport’s history that an athlete had performed to his own music. Radford’s piece, Tribute, a classically inspired lyrical piece, was recorded by the Longueuil Symphony Orchestra with singer Jenifer Aubry. “Apparently, back in the 1990s, a Ukrainian skater wrote a techno piece for his performance, but this took place in a non-competitive context,” Radford said. “And Edvin Marton is also known for the pieces he wrote for specific male and female figure skaters, but what I did was different.”

Radford’s feat was a first. In 2006, the young skater had written a simple and moving piano composition in memory of his trainer, Paul Wirtz, who had succumbed to cancer at the age of 47. That could have been the end of the story. “Music has been in my life since I was eight,” Radford recalls. “Whenever I check into a hotel, as soon as I can locate the piano, I have to sit down and play something. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if I had ever thought of skating to one of my own compositions some day,” a suggestion Radford finally took a couple of years ago when, without mentioning anything to his skating partner Meagan Duhamel or his trainer Julie Marcotte, he did an Internet search using the keywords “music,” “composer,” and “Montreal”. That led him to Louis Babin, whose online musical excerpts impressed him. Promptly reached, Babin was initially skeptical: “I had been contacted before about similar projects,” the seasoned composer pointed out, “and I wasn’t quite sure.”

“Music has been in my life since I was eight.” – Eric Radford

Once the two composers met face to face, however, Babin was in. “I saw that Eric was really talented and that his composition was solid. He was also using Logic Pro, the music software I’m teaching. I totally understood why he had reached out to help his project materialize,” Babin recalled. But it wouldn’t necessarily be easy. First of all, Meagan Duhamel and Julie Marcotte had to be brought on board along with the Figure Skating Federation. “I found out later that Meagan and Julie were not immediately convinced,” Radford remembered. “After hearing the synthesizer demo that had been produced with sampled sounds, they didn’t believe it could work. At some point, I promised them that, if it didn’t in the end, I wouldn’t mind. The main thing for me was seeing the process through.”

Over several months, Tribute was orchestrated by Radford and Babin, who owns a 10% performing right royalty interest in the piece. While they occasionally met, they mostly worked through e-mail, and Babin strongly suggested that Radford hire the Longueuil Symphony to record the piece, an expense that paid out. “That’s when I was able to appreciate the enormity of this project,” Radford explained. “Wow! The instant we heard the first bow strokes, Meagan, Julie and I looked at each another, and I knew that this could really happen. When you’re an athlete, you concentrate on stepping onto that podium, but that’s a very brief moment after so many years of training. With that song, I was able to live an experience that was just as intense. What a gift!”

Drawing many parallels between the precision required for a work like Tribute and his work on music cues for film and television scores, Babin pointed out that “it was extremely important to listen to trainer Julie Marcotte’s comments as she was describing the timing between the music and the choreography. Eric and I made adjustments until the very end. We still had to cut out four seconds of music before sending the piece for final mixing.” Babin even travelled to Boisbriand (Quebec) to watch Radford and Duhamel the first time they skated their short program to Tribute.

Babin was both thrilled with his collaboration with Radford and impressed with the Olympic athlete’s courage. “He stuck his neck out. That venture could have brought a lot of additional stress, but Eric saw things differently.” Tribute can now be purchased online, with half the proceeds being donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. Above all, Eric Radford is planning to pursue his creative partnership with fellow SOCAN member Louis Babin: “That’s the musical world I want to get involved in once I’m through with figure stating. Will it be in two, four years? I really don’t know. Right now, I’m gearing up to write the music for our next long program. There’s no going back.”

To purchase Tribute, go here.

After 10 years in business, it comes as no surprise that L’Assommoir (a.k.a. “the Dram”) is considered to be one of Montreal’s most popular late night hot-spots.

L’Assommoir opened its doors in early 2004, and added one more location in 2009. With two outlets in the bustling city, the restaurant-bar’s warm and friendly atmosphere continues to please  both after-work and late-night crowds by enlisting the city’s most celebrated DJs to perform almost every night of the week.

“Here, music is not background noise, it’s part of L’Assommoir’s global experience,” says co-owner, Victor Charlebois. “Music is integral to our business and we’ve been playing music in our restaurant ever since we opened.”

No stranger to the music business, Charlebois’ commitment to honouring music creators comes from his relation to one of Montreal’s most talented and iconic musicians ever: his father, the legendary, award-winning singer-songwriter, Robert Charlebois.

“For us, music is as important as food, cocktails and our staff.”

One of 30,000 dedicated SOCAN licensed bars and restaurants across Canada to receive a window sticker as part of SOCAN’s Licensed to Play (L2P) campaign, L’Assommoir proudly displays it on their front door to show support for those who create the music that their customers love hearing.

“This sticker is a source of pride for the regulars who’ve noticed it,” says Victor Charlebois.  “Our customers know it means that we provide creative entertainment, and promote Montreal’s homegrown talent, as well as international emerging artists.”

Taking it a step further, Charlebois says, “We support our Montreal emerging artists every Thursday with our Sounds of Montreal, a musical event that is frequently shared on social and other media. It’s an event that amplifies our featured artists’ visibility.”

There’s no doubt L’Assommoir has gained competitive advantage by way of music. ”We may be a little louder than in other restaurants, but for us, music is as important as food, cocktails and our staff.” says Charlebois. “All these things bring us closer to our patrons and keep them coming back.”

The co-owners credit music for greatly enhancing L’Assommoir’s overall customer experience, saying it “creates a contagious energy and plays a significant role in broadening our customer base.”

Says the younger Charlebois: “Our slogan is A universe to drink, eat and see, and we might add and to listen to!”

To learn more and become Licensed to Play, click here.